Financial Firms Discuss How To Build A Better Data Center

Despite slow progress in some areas, virtualization is clearly making a splash on Wall Street and becoming an important component of next-generation data centers.
Financial firms are turning to technologies like virtualization and grid computing in their data centers, as well as implementing "future-proof" designs to accommodate emerging technologies, the firms said at Wall Street Technology Association's data center event in New York City on Tuesday.

Lehman Brothers has experienced strong growth over the past few years and formed data center initiatives to boost its global capacity. In addition to focusing on power consumption, the global investment bank has other strategies in place to maximize data center efficiencies.

"We now need to be aware of data center planning and take power and cooling into consideration. Grid computing and virtualization are nice tools to have for data center planning," said Sabet Elias, CTO of Lehman Brothers, during a presentation.

With most firms planning their IT in three to five-year life cycles, it's difficult to tell which technologies will still be relevant 20 years ahead or what the power consumption will be. "Future-proofing is a necessity since we don't know if tools like virtualization will still be applicable," Elias said.

Integro Insurance Brokers tackled the challenge of resource management by implementing virtualization, clustering, service-oriented architecture, and grid computing in its data centers. The facility responsibilities are outsourced, which means outside experts handle cooling and power, allowing Integro to focus on other issues.

"We're looking at the data center from a different approach -- one that's more business oriented," said David Friedlander, Integro's global technology services leader. Integro is using a storage area network, which connects multiple servers to centralized storage, for data backup instead of disks. Web services enable Integro to easily administer its applications and users can access the applications through a portal.

Data center consolidation and power and cooling costs are major trends driving firms like Integro toward virtualization. Integro has virtualized its quality assurance and production environments and is looking to virtualize more.

Firms no longer find it efficient to allocate servers and resources to specific users and departments. On a per-server basis, data center infrastructure cost has roughly tripled in the last five years, said Russell Kurtz, principal consultant at CS Technology, a provider of technology strategy and implementation services.

It's important to keep in mind that not every application can be virtualized, such as real-time trading, for example. "We recommend working with vendors directly to make sure they support the application," said Christian Teeft, director of engineering at NTT America's Enterprise Hosting Division. NTT America is the U.S. subsidiary of NTT Communications Corp., a global data and IP services arm of telecom provider Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corp.

Virtualization can help firms cut disaster recovery costs, since it's still very expensive. With virtualization, you have a storage pool and can take snapshots of data every couple of hours for disaster recovery, said Teeft. "Everyone should be buying hardware (a server) and putting a virtualization layer on top," he said.

Firms can choose several options for x86-compatible computers from three of the top vendors in the space: Microsoft, Red Hat, and VMware. Each one has its benefits. Microsoft and Red Hat make their virtualization software available for free. VMware, a wholly owned subsidiary of EMC, also offers free software for virtualizing desktops and servers, although its popularity stems from broad business-class platforms for optimizing data centers.

"What's holding back virtualization from becoming a great data center technology is storage. Storage is still very expensive. Vendors like IBM are charging to virtualize terabytes of storage, while Red Hat and Microsoft are giving it away for free," Teeft said.

But despite slow progress in some areas, virtualization is clearly making a splash on Wall Street and becoming an important component of next-generation data centers.

Editor's Choice
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
Terry White, Associate Chief Analyst, Omdia
Richard Pallardy, Freelance Writer
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Pam Baker, Contributing Writer